It’s a question many parents of children with significant mental and/or physical challenges face after their child turns 21 and Special School District services are no longer available.
For Julie Yawitz, research into that question began several years before her younger daughter Kaitlyn celebrated her 21st birthday in November.
“I was determined not to let her sit on our couch. I had been on a search for quite some time, probably since she started high school, as to what our next phase would be,” said Julie, who is married to Greg Yawitz, a commercial real estate developer and president of the board of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis. The couple also have an older daughter, Alyson, 23, who is earning her doctorate in occupational therapy at Boston University. The Yawitzes are members of Congregation Shaare Emeth.
Kaitlyn has autism. She also has some learning deficits and challenges as well as severe food allergies. Julie explains that many people like Kaitlyn with an autism diagnosis often end up in the food service industry, but that wasn’t an option for her.
“We were quite limited in what opportunities she had with regard to vocational training skills,” said Julie, who stresses how important it is for parents to advocate for their autistic child and plan ahead. “Honestly, there are not a lot of options out there after these kids turn 21. I’m one of those people who is always looking at what’s next instead of getting stuck. I toured several facilities and day programs, and I wasn’t finding the right fit for her.”
Then Julie went to an AR Workshop party with a group of friends. She says that when she walked into the welcoming space with its homespun feel, it clicked: Kaitlyn loves crafts, and she loves people. This would be a great opportunity for Kaitlyn and me to do a business together.
AR Workshop is a do-it-yourself studio that offers individual and group classes for creating decorative home items such as stenciled wood signs, frames, canvas pillows and bags, Lazy Susans, cake stands, cheese trays, chunky knit blankets and more. Participants are provided with the raw materials and instructors are on site to help.
The business was created by two female friends, with the first workshop opening in 2016 in Pineville, N.C. Today, most of these workshops are franchises, with roughly 150 of them in 32 states.
Last Friday, Julie opened her AR Workshop at 9200 Olive Blvd. in Olivette, next door to Sugarfire Smoke House. Another location in Chesterfield opened in 2017.
“Kaitlyn is so excited about it. She calls it her business,” said Julie, a social worker who left her job as an adolescent therapist and special events coordinator after 26 years at Logos School to open the business with Kaitlyn.
“Kaitlyn is used to a very structured day,” Julie said. “During this pandemic, she has continued to get some of her therapy and pre-employment services. She gets 14 hours a week of therapy, and that includes applied behavior analysis, individual learning, working on life skills and social skills.”
Part of her therapy includes working with a job coach, figuring out what her long-term responsibilities at the workshop will be. Currently, she is helping to get supplies ready. For example, rags used to stain wood come in bulk and need to be cut into pieces, so she is doing that. She also is helping with some of the cleaning, labeling stencils, doing inventory and entering it into the computer so that it can be tracked.
“She is doing a lot of the management of the retail component,” Julie said, explaining that the workshop also sells jewelry, home goods and decorative pillows.
Julie had hoped to open the business in April, but the pandemic stalled those plans. While the studio space can accommodate up to 36 people, only 10 can be there now to maintain social distancing. That allows two people per table. All must wear a mask.
By going to arworkshop.com/olivette, customers can view dozens of project possibilities as well as class times and availability. Advance registration is required so that materials will be ready when participants arrive.
Julie says the space can be booked for group events at no extra cost, adding that it’s perfect for children’s birthdays, girl’s nights out, bridal and baby showers, corporate team building and more. Participants are encouraged to bring their own food and wine or other beverages to group events.
Every Wednesday in June, the studio will offer youth workshops for children age 8 and up. Parents can drop them off at 9:30 a.m. and pick them up at noon. In July, Julie, Kaitlyn and their team plan to launch a summer camp program.
Most adult projects range from $40 to $70, and children’s projects range from $30 to $45.
“This is meant to be a space for people to come and hang out with friends,” Julie said. “If you’re kosher, you can bring your own food and wine to your event. If you’re not kosher, you can bring your own food and wine to your event.
“It’s just a great gathering space. Kaitlyn and I are excited for the community to come see it and take part.”
For more information or to book space or a group party, go to www.arworkshop.com/olivette or call 314-898-9151.